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Do we have to offer the same benefits to our employees who work in other countries as to the employees working in the United States?

It depends on the country and how the employer’s benefits plans are written.

International benefits programs can basically be grouped into one of three categories: government-provided, government-mandated and voluntarily provided by the company. Government-provided benefits are administered and provided directly by the government. They most often consist of health care and retirement benefits, but may also include other benefits such as life insurance, disability insurance or unemployment insurance. Government-mandated benefits are those provided by employers because the law requires them to do so. And, of course, voluntarily provided benefits are provided at the discretion of the employer.

Employers will want to check the country’s laws regarding what benefits are automatically provided by the government and those required for employers to provide to employees working in that country. These laws can change frequently, so it’s necessary to keep current. Employers will also want to research what voluntary benefits are customarily provided by employers in the country. Some benefits may not be required, but if most employers provide them, then it will be difficult for an employer to recruit and retain employees if it doesn’t offer these benefits.

Paid time off benefits, which may not be required for employers to provide in the United States, such as vacation, holidays, maternity and paternity leave, and medical leave, are common government-mandated benefits in other countries. Severance-related benefits, such as the amount paid to a terminated employee, are another common government-mandated benefit internationally. Disability, life insurance and retirement benefits can also be mandated for employers to provide to employees working in other countries.

Depending on the country, international assignees—in addition to the local nationals—may have to be covered by the employer under the country’s mandated benefits laws. When there are expatriates and third-country nationals working together with the local nationals, the employer will want to make sure benefits are equitable among the employees. When employees are brought together in one location, they become a peer group and will naturally measure their benefits against one another’s. So even if a particular benefit isn’t normally provided in the employee’s home country but is provided to all his or her peers in the country where the employee is assigned, then it behooves the employer to provide this benefit to all employees in that location. Furthermore, local discrimination laws may require an employer to do so. It is also quite common for international assignees to be given additional benefits not typically provided to employees in the headquarters country or to host-country nationals. Such benefits may include housing, goods and services, school expenses for children, income tax equalization and services, and trips to the employee’s home country.

Regardless of what benefits are required or voluntarily provided to employees working in other countries, it is important for employers to clearly define the eligibility criteria in their benefits plans, such as group health plans, retirement plans and various cafeteria plans. This will ensure there is no confusion among employees.


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